Friday, March 23, 2012

The Continuing Issues with MSG in our Food

I was up early this morning and fired off some emails. After I did that I trashed another pile of emails. One unread one caught my eye (from a friend who sends me a lot of 'forwards'). This particular email was about the very serious situation with the food additive MSG or Monosodium Glutamate.
Most readers will know that MSG goes by several other names when listed on our packaged foods: Accent, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, natural flavor or natural flavoring, Aginimoto, natural meat tenderizer, etc. I think I find "natural flavor" to be the most offensive and deceptive.
How many people believe they are actually getting something healthy when they read that?

Monosodium Glutamate is a non-essential amino acid, the salt part of glutamic acid. It accentuates flavours of food and chemically breaks down tough meat fibres. The European Union lists it as a "food additive". Glutamate is a naturally occurring substance (in sea vegetables)but MSG is artifically made. (see the video below about MSG). In the U.S. the FDA has approved it as a safe food. In Canada we can find it listed in any number of packaged foods, and hidden in the foods we eat in restaurants. You'll find it in your local supermarket and on the shelves of your health food store (check out the ingredients lists on most herbal tea bags and see if you don't find "natural flavor" listed). Most restaurants will insist that they do not add MSG to their food (in my experience). But if they are using packaged foods that already contain MSG, it's in the food already.

What does MSG do in the body?

The officially reported side-effects of MSG include:
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Numbness/ tingling
  • Burning sensation
  • Palpitations
  • Weakness
and I can report that our son, when younger, broke out in huge itchy hives on the ball diamond after a lunch at a nearby Chinese diner.  We rushed him off to the hospital where we saw a Chinese pediatrician (I'm not kidding) in Emergency who stated: "Your son will be okay.  He has what we might call "Chinese Kitchen Syndrome"-- or allergic reaction to MSG that is used in Chinese food".  (He also felt nauseous, dizzy, extreme fatigue, and headache-y).

Our Filipina daughter-in-law bought a bottle of MSG meat tenderizer when she moved to Canada in 2006, something I hadn't contained in my kitchen ever, and had not seen in my mother's kitchen since the 1960's. 

Canadian researcher, John Erb, made some alarming discoveries about MSG while working on the book called "The Slow Poisoning of America". 

The Erbs (the authors are John and his wife Michelle) feel there is a real conspiracy to envelope and keep North Americans in the "obesity epidemic" we keep hearing about in the media.  Is there an actual chemical causing obesity?  John Erb believes there is, and that that chemical is monosodium glutamate.  A study on rats injected with MSG showed that their pancreases produced 3X the usual amount of insulin with the MSG injections.  Obesity was the result.  Erbs suggest that this is the result for humans as well when they eat many packaged goods with MSG in them.  The enhanced flavouring that results from the use of MSG and addicts people to the taste experience of MSG-containing packaged foods.  Since many of these foods are high fat, high additive, salty "junk foods", it makes sense that obesity would be a result of making these primary foods in one's diet.  Even if one doesn't consider the other thesis about the "poisoning" effects of MSG it seems mighty sneaky for the processed food industries to be adding addictive substances to food.  There was apparently a statement on the MSG page that stated that the food industry did indeed want people to overeat their foods and that is why they used MSG... however, as you might expect, all "evidence" has been cleared away-- the tracks are gone.

I am not a scientist and have to give at least a bow to a lot of the critiques of John and Michelle Erb's book.  If indeed it was MSG at the root of obesity, wouldn't there be more obese Asians? Perhaps there are.  Perhaps the rural Asians don't use Monosodium Glutamate and the wealthy urban Asians do, and now the obesity problems among wealthy MSG-using Asians are also being marked?  I don't know.  Does anyone else?

Dr. Russell Blaylock has written a book on the MSG topic as well that is called "Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills."  Blaylock is a retired neurosurgeon and cited hundreds of studies in his book to support his thesis of brain damage being attributed to "excito-toxin" additives such as MSG, Aspartame, cysteine and aspartic acid in processed foods.  Blaylock wrote the book in a sort of "mystery" genre as he attempted to get at the underlying causes for Parkinson's disease.  MSG and the other excitotoxins he sees as breaking through the brain-blood barrier and overstimulating (exciting) the delicate neurons in the brain.  But this isn't a party that ends with Mom coming to pick you up and take you home where you can go to bed and sleep it off... this is a party where you go into a frenzy until you die.  Not all cells die, but certain cells DO die pertaining to excito-toxins.  Watch the videos with Dr. Blaylock to learn more.

What I think, and have from the time our son had the allergic experience with MSG, is that we are largely responsible for our own food choices, particularly those of us who are privileged with good educations, awareness, and access to a healthy, organic, plant-based, wholefood source.  Food with  "additives" in general (meaning stuff like MSG that don't have nutritional benefits and are likely going to be found to be deleterious to our health, if they haven't already been found so) should probably be rejected in favour of eating  food as close to possible to the way God created it.  Cut out that extra middle man and peel your own orange. 
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